Gary Sansom Scholarship boosts chicken meat industry appeal

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Passion, drive and ambition of budding young scientists harnessed by initiative honouring giant of the industry.

The Australian chicken meat industry is reaping the rewards of supporting innovative young leaders keen to pursue careers in the industry through the Gary Samson Scholarship program.

The Scholarship is named in honour of the late Gary Sansom, a former Chair of the AgriFutures Chicken Meat Advisory Panel and President of the Australian Chicken Meat Federation from 2009 to 2013, and again from 2015 to 2017.

Gary was a long-standing supporter of programs encouraging new people into the industry and championed numerous initiatives aimed at keeping Australia at the forefront of industry best practice.

The Scholarship recognises high-quality students, helping them foster a career pathway in the chicken meat industry, and supports industry relevant research. Scholarships are funded by the AgriFutures Chicken Meat Program and supported by industry.

Over the years, recipients have focused on a range of topics, from attracting and retaining youth in the poultry industry, to how the maternal environment influences the growth of meat chickens, and research into chicken embryo development.

We spoke with three early-career researchers awarded the Gary Sansom Scholarship — Ashlee Morgan, Joshua Angove and Caleb Wellard. The trio have ambition, drive and a genuine interest in all things poultry.

Attracting and retaining youth

In 2018, University of Adelaide Honours student Ashlee Morgan was awarded the inaugural Gary Sansom Scholarship. Ashlee’s research project focused on understanding the factors for attracting and retaining youth in the poultry industry — a key focus of the AgriFutures Chicken Meat Program. Her interest in contributing to the poultry industry in the long term meant Ashlee stood out to judges.

Tell us about your background and what drives your passion for the chicken meat industry

I started my career working as a breeder farm manager at Ingham’s and moved into a project officer role with the Department of Primary Industries and Regions South Australia (PIRSA), where I was involved in developing a range of programs for the poultry industry. I now work for the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

As a child, I kept fancy breeds of poultry as pets and hatched out my own chicks to raise. When I started university, I was unaware of the careers that would allow me to work with poultry. During my time at university, I found that my knowledge was strong in poultry topics and my interest continued to grow.

Upon completing my studies, I approached one of my lecturers and discussed my interest in working with poultry. He was able to put me in contact with Ingham’s.

In 2018 you were awarded the inaugural Gary Sansom Scholarship. What appealed to you about the scholarship and what did you hope to gain from it?

The Scholarship allowed me to identify the causes of skills shortages and barriers to young people pursuing a career in the poultry sector. The scholarship is unique, and I was thrilled to receive the inaugural Scholarship. When a colleague told me about the Scholarship, I felt it was the perfect fit for me.

When I applied, I hoped it would progress my career by expanding my networks — opening doors for career progression. I also knew it would improve my understanding of the issues currently facing the industry.

Tell us about the research undertaken as part of your scholarship

Australia’s chicken meat industry offers dynamic career opportunities. My project aimed to boost the appeal of the industry. I want young people to get excited when I tell them about my work and see that it as an exciting career choice.

I explored the possible causes of skills shortages in the poultry sector, investigating the reasons behind the lack of youth interest in pursuing a career in the sector and agriculture in general. I developed a questionnaire for surveying high school students and used both a qualitative and quantitative approach to identify attitudes towards agriculture, particularly the poultry industry. The project also addressed potential strategies the industry could use to address the skills shortage.

How do you believe the scholarship has shaped your future?

The scholarship allowed me to take a break from my ‘day job’ and undertake research I was extremely interested in, which I would’ve been otherwise unable to do. I believe the research I undertook has the potential to contribute to the future growth of the Australian poultry meat industry longer term. It also presented opportunities to connect with a range of people from different areas of the industry.

A game changer for chicken breeding

University of Adelaide PhD student Joshua Angove was awarded the 2019 Gary Sansom Scholarship. for his research on the influence of the maternal environment on how meat chickens grow. Joshua investigated how nutrition and breeder environments influence how efficiently a hen’s progeny grows.

Tell us about your background and what drives your passion for the chicken meat industry.

I was born and bred in Adelaide, and my passion for animals was driven by Steve Irwin as a child. After completing school, I studied Animal Science at the University of Adelaide, where I was introduced to the field of developmental programming. I explored the topic further, with the result — an Honours project investigating how the restriction of feed intake of breeder hens impacts progeny growth.

In 2019 you were awarded the Gary Sansom Scholarship. What appealed to you about the scholarship and what did you hope to gain from it?

I was in the second year of my PhD, with the topic an extension of my Honours project, when I read about the Gary Samson Scholarship on the Poultry Hub website. In addition to the financial assistance the scholarship offered, it was a great opportunity for me to grow my network, get real experience with an industry-based PhD supervisor and get my name out in the industry. This industry exposure helped me transition to my current role. People can put a face to a name — and this was so much more valuable than the financial incentives, it has propelled my career.

Tell us about the research undertaken as part of your scholarship

My research investigated how the maternal environment — particularly maternal stress — of hens affects the growth of meat chickens. Dietary additives were also included in rations to improve breeder hen performance and the subsequent feed conversion ratios of their progeny. I followed the physiological pathways to determine the effects on hormone metabolism, yolk utilisation and skeletal muscle development in the egg.

The outcomes of my project have the potential to impact poultry production globally, as the breed of chicken used in Australia is also used around the world. Production gains identified in the project could be replicated elsewhere, which is an exciting prospect for me as a young scientist.

How do you believe the scholarship has shaped your future?

For me, the opportunities the scholarship presented — having an industry-based PhD supervisor, attendance at industry conferences, gaining experience in the industry I wanted to pursue my career in and making connections across the industry — were worth more than the value of the
scholarship. It was an honour to be selected as a recipient. I’d put a lot of effort into my research, and it was incredibly rewarding to have the potential impact of my research recognised.

It’s a credit to the vision of the AgriFutures Chicken Meat Program that they see the value in supporting young researchers to become leaders in the chicken meat industry, and it provides motivation for young researchers to keep going and get through their PhD.

Why sleep cycles matter

Caleb Wellard, the 2023 Gary Samson Scholarship recipient, is investigating why sleep cycles matter when it comes to the development of avian embryos. Caleb’s research could see improvements in bird welfare through the replication of natural environmental cues that could reduce the hatching window.

Tell us about your background and what drives your passion for the chicken meat industry

I studied a Bachelor of Zoology and Animal Science at Deakin University before completing Honours, where my thesis looked at the impacts of noise pollution on zebra finch spatial learning. After completing Honours, I commenced a PhD in the same laboratory, with the same supervisor, Professor Kate Buchanan. Our initial discussions focused on research within the poultry industry, and after talking to my industry supervisor from Turosi Food Solutions, Dr Matthew Hilliar, my enthusiasm for the project snowballed.

I had never given much thought to research within the poultry industry, however since the start of my PhD and starting my research, I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole of chicken research and love it. I love seeing research being applied in industry — it’s exciting and rewarding and continues to drive my interest in the field. My research will be an important stepping stone for the industry to build a more sustainable and viable future.

In 2023 you were awarded the Gary Sansom scholarship. What appealed to you about the scholarship and what did you hope to gain from it?

What I find most appealing about this scholarship is the support by AgriFutures of the students; not just financially but supporting and assisting students to begin carving out a career in the poultry industry. Unless you have the contacts, finding your footing after your university studies can be a difficult process. I commend AgriFutures on this initiative and for supporting young researchers.

Tell us about your project undertaken as part of your scholarship

Broadly speaking, my research is investigating the impact and effect of circadian rhythm on the natural internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle on avian embryo development. Early embryonic life is a sensitive period for a developing chick, and during this time the embryo can be influenced by external cues that can have a beneficial or harmful impact on their development.

An important outcome of the research is improved bird welfare through the replication of natural environmental cues to shorten the hatching window. Hatch windows can last anywhere from 24 to 48 hours, so reducing the time those chicks have to wait to be taken out of the incubator and then moved to an area where there’s food and water is quite important. Light, dark and temperature cycles are crucial time-giving cues (zeitgebers) that could influence the development of a healthy circadian rhythm within chicken embryos, potentially influencing their pre and post-hatch development. It is thought that diurnal changes in light and temperature are used by avian embryos to synchronise hatching and influence development. Birds may naturally time their hatching with these natural environmental cues, and we are hoping to replicate this in the lab.

How do you think the Gary Sansom Scholarship will shape your future?

The Scholarship has provided me with many opportunities to meet new people and attend future industry events. These opportunities have allowed me to learn from others about the industry while also learning about the different career paths people have taken to get to where they are.

I am also learning so much about the relationship between science and industry. It has given me a greater appreciation and perspective for the application of research. It feels great to have industry support for valuable research.

Apply for the 2024 Gary Sansom Scholarship
Keep up to date with what’s happening in the Chicken Meat Program

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